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Fraternal of Police Metro Transit Police Labor Committee, Inc. v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Wmata

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

August 30, 2017

FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE METRO TRANSIT POLICE LABOR COMMITTEE, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY WMATA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          T. S. Ellis, III United States District Judge.

         This breach of contract case arises from a labor dispute between an employer, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority ("WMATA"), on the one hand, and on the other hand, a WMATA employee, Officer Mark Millhouse ("Officer Millhouse"), and his union, the Fraternal Order of Police Metro Transit Labor Committee, Inc. ("Union"). When Officer Millhouse failed to receive a K-9 officer position to which he felt entitled under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA"), the Union, on his behalf, initiated a grievance pursuant to the CBA. In the course of pursuing this labor grievance, the Union and WMATA resolved the dispute by entering into a settlement agreement on October 11, 2016 (hereinafter, "Settlement Agreement"). This lamentably did not end the dispute, as the parties then fell to fighting over the meaning and application of the Settlement Agreement, which led the Union to file its one-count complaint for breach of contract. WMATA, in turn, filed a motion to dismiss which presents the question whether the parties' dispute over the meaning and application of the settlement agreement may be litigated in this forum as a state law breach of contract claim or whether this action is a labor dispute that must be resolved by arbitration as set forth in the CBA and the WMATA Interstate Compact ("Compact").

         For the reasons that follow, the parties' dispute must be arbitrated.

         I.

         A.

         Before reciting the facts or addressing the issues presented by the motion to dismiss, it is important to describe the parties and to understand the context in which this labor dispute arises.

         Plaintiff, WMATA, is an interstate agency formed by a Compact between three jurisdictions, the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, for the purpose of operating Metrorail and Metrobus systems in those jurisdictions. See Fraternal Order of Police Metro Transit Police Labor Comm., Inc. v. Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth., 780 F.3d 238, 239 (4th Cir. 2015) (reciting the history and purpose of the Compact and the role of WMATA in administering the Metrosystem). The Compact authorizes WMATA to employ a police force, the Metro Transit Police Department ("MTPD"), whose officers have the authority to enforce the laws of the three jurisdictions on the Metrosystem. Officer Millhouse is employed directly by MTPD and by extension WMATA. The Union, the defendant in this matter, is the bargaining agent for MTPD officers, including Officer Millhouse, and is also a party to the CBA with WMATA.

         It is also important as a preface to describing the specific facts of this case to identify certain provisions of the Compact and CBA that play a role in the disposition of this matter. To begin with, Article XIV, Section 66 of the Compact, which governs the relationship between WMATA and its employees, mandates that any labor dispute involving the meaning or application of the CBA shall be resolved by arbitration.[1] The Compact also provides in Article XVI, Section 80, in part, that: "The authority shall be liable for its contracts and for its torts ... in accordance with the law of the applicable Signatory (including rules on conflict of laws). ..." Id. at Art. XVI, § 80. And finally, Article XIV, Section 81 of the Compact, in conjunction with the enabling statute passed by Congress, [2] provides that United States District Courts shall have jurisdiction over "all actions brought by or against the Authority. ..." Id. at § 81.

         The CBA entered into by WMATA and the Union (on behalf of MTPD officers) also contains provisions relevant to these proceedings. Specifically, Article 6 of the CBA sets forth the manner in which WMATA must fill vacancies within MTPD, a sub-unit of WMATA, including inter-departmental transfers.[3] WMATA and Fraternal Order of Police/Metro Transit Police Labor Committee Inc. Collective Bargaining Agreement, Article 6 (October 2010). Additionally, Article 9 of the CBA sets forth the grievance procedure that governs any "dispute between the Authority and the Union concerning the meaning, interpretation and/or application of [the CBA]." Id., Article 9. Specifically, Article 9 sets forth a five-step grievance procedure with the final step being arbitration or appeal to a trial board. Id.

         Given this context, it is now appropriate to recite the pertinent facts.

         B.

         For the purposes of WMATA's motion to dismiss, the material facts set forth in the Union's complaint must be accepted as true and are as follows:[4]

• Officer Millhouse, who is represented by the Union, has been continuously employed as a MTPD officer since May 4, 2004.

         • On July 10, 2014, WMATA (through its sub-unit MTPD) issued a vacancy announcement for a position as a K-9 officer.

         • Officer Millhouse applied for the K-9 officer position and on July 28, 2014, WMATA issued a memorandum stating that Officer Millhouse was eligible and ranked fourth on the list of potential candidates (presumably based on seniority).

         • After this memorandum issued Officer Millhouse was suspended for one day in late 2014 for allegedly failing to report a traffic accident.

         • On March 2, 2015, WMATA notified Officer Millhouse that he was no longer eligible for the position of K-9 officer given his 2014 disciplinary action.

         • Thereafter, Officer Millhouse was disciplined on two other occasions: first, on April 4, 2016, Officer Millhouse received a two day suspension for purportedly improperly ejecting a round of ammunition from his service firearm; and second, on May 16, 2016, Officer Millhouse received a three day suspension for allegedly participating in a pattern of attending court proceedings unnecessarily.

         • The Union, utilizing the CBA's grievance procedures, filed four grievances on behalf of Officer Millhouse: the first three related to Officer Millhouse's disciplinary sanctions[5] and the fourth related to WMATA's March 2, 2015 determination that Officer Millhouse was no longer eligible for a K-9 handler vacancy.

         • On October 11, 2016, WMATA and the Union entered into the Settlement Agreement resolving the Union's fourth grievance, specifically whether Officer Millhouse would be eligible to serve as a K-9 officer.

         • The Settlement Agreement provides that:

         Officer Millhouse will be appointed to the next EOD K-9 opening if Officer Millhouse meets the following requirements:

(1) Officer Millhouse must for a period of 8 consecutive months of active duty remain free of a disciplinary action. This period will be measured from the effective date of the disciplinary action;
(2) Officer Millhouse must achieve 8 consecutive months of active duty service without a disciplinary action no later than March 31, 2017. If Officer Millhouse is unable to achieve 8 consecutive months by March 31, 2017, he may still qualify for an appointment to the K-9 ...

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